Final votes on police recommendations bill delayed by opposition

Final votes on police recommendations bill delayed by opposition

Legislation stalls in committee; president comes out in favor of debate, recalls ‘terrible’ anger when his reputation was tarnished due to police probe

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Likud MK David Amsalem chairs a meeting of Knesset's Interior Affairs Committee about the so-called recommendations bill on November 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem chairs a meeting of Knesset's Interior Affairs Committee about the so-called recommendations bill on November 30, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Knesset will not hold the final votes on the so-called police recommendations bill on Monday after the opposition lodged thousands of objections to the proposed legislation, stalling it in committee.

Coalition lawmakers spent four and a half hours on Monday morning rejecting the opposition’s 1,200 proposed amendments in the Knesset’s Internal Affairs Committee, before chairman David Amsalem — the Likud MK who also authored the bill — announced the panel would pick up again on Wednesday morning.

It was not immediately clear when the final plenary votes, which would pass the bill into law, would take place. The second and third plenary readings of the contested legislation were originally scheduled for last Monday, but were later postponed.

“The united opposition managed again to delay the recommendations bill, which is a sign and symptom of the coalition’s corruption and harm to the public interest,” tweeted opposition whip Yoel Hasson of the Zionist Union party.

Further debate about the bill — which has been criticized by both the attorney general and state prosecutor — received a surprise endorsement on Monday from President Reuven Rivlin.

“The public’s right to know is of the highest importance,” said the president, adding that “one must remember that along with that right, there are other values, including the right to presumed innocence and a good name. The tension between these two values deserves a thorough public debate.”

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at the Knesset in Jerusalem, April 24, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He admitted the issue was personal, as a criminal investigation in 2001 — since closed — thwarted his appointment as justice minister.

“It took three and a half years until the case was closed due to lack of guilt, but the personal and public damage continued to be an open wound,” said the president. “I was terribly angry. I believed I was being harassed for personal and political reasons. I understood how a man, a public figure, feels when he is exposed [to allegations of wrongdoing] without any possibility of defending his good reputation.”

The amended police bill

The committee was debating an amended version of the bill that excludes the ongoing police investigations into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and coalition chairman David Bitan.

In its final version, the bill says that in criminal cases that have an accompanying prosecutor — namely high-profile cases into politicians and public officials — police are barred, upon wrapping up the investigations and handing over the material to prosecutors, from commenting on whether there is an evidentiary basis for an indictment. However, it also states that the attorney general, state prosecution, or other prosecutors may seek police input on the evidence, should it be deemed necessary.

While earlier versions of the bill sought to impose a one-year jail sentence on leaks from investigators in ongoing cases, the final version merely refers to the existing clause in the penal code (117) — which is not enforced — that imposes three years’ imprisonment for leaks.

The police recommendations law would not apply to any existing cases.

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center attend the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, December 3, 2017. (Sebastian Scheiner/AFP)

Amid mounting opposition, Netanyahu said last week that the legislation was “appropriate and necessary,” but that in order to avoid the appearance that it was tailored to protect him from public fallout in his own corruption probes, it would be amended so as not to apply to him.

Before the amendment, the bill had widely been seen as an attempt by lawmakers to shield Netanyahu, from public fallout should police find sufficient evidence against him to warrant criminal charges.

Netanyahu is under investigation in two separate cases on suspicions he accepted pricey gifts from billionaire benefactors and negotiated a quid-pro-quo deal with a newspaper publisher in a bid for more favorable coverage. He denies the allegations against him.

The bill also faced additional hurdles as one of its main backers, coalition whip Bitan, is now a key suspect in a massive corruption and organized crime investigation in the Rishon Lezion municipality, a yearlong probe that became public on Sunday with a wave of arrests of city officials.

In its final version, the bill states that in most cases, police may not explicitly recommend whether an indictment is warranted. They may, however, state whether there is an evidentiary basis for an indictment, according to the bill. This is consistent with existing police practices.

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